IT was an intriguing question. Speaking at the launch of Miss Hits, a tennis programme devised to encourage more young girls into tennis, Judy Murray was asked what difference it would have made in the rearing of champions if she had had daughters instead of sons.
She would never say it but the truth is, any girl born into the Murray household would have had a fighting chance of making it to the top. For most girls, though, the path to success is riddled with potholes.
Both Jamie and Andy have won Grand Slam titles and much of that is down to the way they were raised. But not everyone has the insight and the enthusiasm of the Great Britain Federation Cup coach. She admits that, currently, it is tougher to entice young girls into the sport and even more difficult to keep them interested. But much of that is down to the way the sport is coached.
A firm advocate for equality, she accepts that coaching girls is different from coaching boys and says that only by recognising that and revising things will we enhance the hopes of bringing more girls through the ranks and enhance the chances of a young British girl joining the ranks of Grand Slam champions.
“In our country four times as many boys play as girls. There are so few playing. Often little girls do not like to be competitive, so we have to make it fun, we have to keep them in the game.
“I loved all sports when I was young and I wanted my kids to enjoy sports so I was always playing actively with them, whatever they wanted to play. We played lots of games indoors. We were always inventing games so if the weather was bad we could play indoors, and because they were two brothers they learned how to compete and they made up their own scoring systems. It is about learning to enjoy competition.”
Tapping into technology, with websites and an app, Miss Hits, uses characters who can engage the youngsters and introduce them to tennis, the different shots, techniques and the technicalities of scoring through various media. With a range of skills and from various backgrounds, girls such as Faith Forehand, Bella Backhand and Selena Serve are a clever learning tool.
The programme which has been launched in conjunction with the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) and will be rolled out in autumn 2014, initially in Edinburgh, London, Bristol and Newcastle-upon-Tyne before expanding to other cities from 2015, specifically targets girls aged 5-8 and acts as a feeder programme into LTA Mini Tennis
“If we are to have a chance in the Fed Cup we need numbers at the top. We want ten people in the main draw at Wimbledon on merit. Why shouldn’t we have that? We have to significantly grow the numbers and then perhaps we may be in a position when the women can be stronger in numbers than the men.
“This is a good time to attract girls to the game because we have two girls heading to the very top of the game.
“We have a great opportunity now, a Wimbledon champion after 77 years of waiting for it. There’s a real buzz about tennis. There is a new chief executive [of the LTA], new head of playing development and I think everyone understands we have to go back and work really hard on the participation side. We have to go back to grassroots and really grow the numbers. I think there will be a real change of vision. In previous regimes a lot was concentrated on the big events at the top end of the game. I think the new regime is going to be looking at grassroots which is absolutely right.”